Origin of religions, cults and their conflicts
Posted on April 19th, 2023

Prof.  N.A.de S. Amaratunga 

The purpose of this article is to show how and why man created religion and how man himself is destroying it. Religion was created by man in his search for solutions to the human predicament, full of defilement, insatiable greed, uncontrolable hatred, ignorence, self-ego which caused immense mental dissatisfaction and sorrow. This problem was made worse by various physical and mental illnesses and natural evil. Early man was amazed, baffled and terrified by natural phenomena and evil. His inherent inquisitiveness and evolved intelect made him pry into nature and its mysteries and thus developed his science. His incessant feeling of dissatisfaction and suffering made him seek solace and thus devoloped religion. He worshipped natural phenomena like the Sun, trees, rocks and later he created deity. Several gods were worshiped in Mesopotamia including Anu the god of Heaven. In ancient Egypt a deity named Sobek with a crocodile head was created. Seals discovered in Indus Valley civilisation ruins show objects of worship like Pasupathi, fig tree, linga etc.

As the civilisations evolved the objects of worship also became more civilized so to speak. Greeks developed twelve gods, Zeus etc, to oversee different subjects. Vedic religion in India developed three gods responsible for the creation and destruction of the world. Pantheism which is the doctrine that propounds several gods and also the concept of identification of god with the universe developed in these cultures. In line with these thoughts arose the  Book of Genesis in  Palestine ascribed to Moses, the first book of the Hebrew religion which described the creation of the world and life in it. It also mentions Abraham who had the first humanity’s relationship with god and who is considered the founder of Judaism. Three religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam, with a common god, evolved from Abrahamic thought. Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohamed the founders of Christianity and Islam respectively are also humanity’s connections with god. Vedic culture in India also paved the way for the development of three religions Brahmanism which developed into Hinduism continuing the doctrinal essence of the Veda, Buddhism and Jainism which took different paths.

However, religions have not been able to subdue these defilement as religions broke up and fragmented. This fragmentation reflects the inherent defilement of man, his ego-centric nature, vileness, hatred, greed, and ignorence. Religious wars like the Islamic invasions, Crusades, in the name of religion stand in testimony to this evil nature of man. Entry of transcendentalism, substantialism and absolutism, which were rejected by Buddha,into Buddhism led to the develoment of Mahayana and Vajrayana and other esoteric schools with dubious doctrines. Hinduism broke up into four main branches and several sects due to difference of opinion on the deity. Islam also has two major branches and several sects. Christianity is divided based on Eastern and Western theology and within these divisions there are six branches. These branches are also broken up into several sects, Protestantism for example has seven sects and cults.

History is replete with conflict and violence among different sects of the same religion. Most destructive had been the European religious wars in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries after the Protestant Reformation in 1517 which disrupted the religious and political structure in Europe. The violence in Ireland is a more recent eruption of these conflicts.  Sectarian conflict and violence have been the bane of the Islamic world which still continues in the Middle East.

Cults such as Evangelism and Born Again Christianity are considered as showing a tendency to take its adherents towards the Dark Ages of the 500 CE to 1000 CE in Europe when there was no freedom of thought and as a result science was stagnant. Born-again practitioners believe they have a closer and intimate relationship with god through Jesus Christ. The potential danger of such beliefs is that it may foster a sense of moral superiority and exclusivity. Those who have had an intense conversion experience may believe they have an intimate connection with God that sets them apart from those without such experiences. That could lead to judgmental attitudes toward those who don’t share their beliefs.This attitude can be especially harmful when rejecting those who differ from oneself, such as members of different religious or cultural groups. Further Born-again Christianity can lead to a disconnection from the realities of our world. This disconnect from reality can lead to rejecting science, reason, and critical thinking, as these are seen as threats to one’s faith.

The danger of permitting religious cults to operate has been evident in many instances. For example Jonestown incident in 1978 where 918 people died due to the instruction of cult leader Jim Jones. The Solar Temple incident that resulted in mass suicide and homicide in France in 1994.  A Buddhist and Hindu cult Aum Shinrikyo led by Shoko Asahara used sarin to kill people in Tokyo in 1995. Sri Lanka had the horrible experience of Easter Sunday bombings perpetrated by an Islamic cult.

The activities of the cult churches may have contributed to the decline of Christianity in Europe. According to the most recent Pew poll, only 71 percent of Europeans still identify as Christian, though 81 percent were raised in the faith. Most are non-practicing. Among the young, the situation is worse. About 60% to 70% percent of young Europeans aged 16–29 identify with no religion, according to a St. Mary University study.

Currently in Europe a cold war is brewing between the main stream Christian church and other sects which are seen as unwelcome intrusion. In the last few years, animosity against evangelicals in Europe seems to be growing in the wake of the  suicides and homicides perpetrated by the Order of the Solar Temple, a new religious movement based on a mixture of esoteric ideas and apocalyptic expectations. Consequently the French government passed an “anti-cult” law in 1999 officially labeling evangelical groups as cults and sects. In October 2002, Belarus passed a strict new law targeting evangelicals and other minority faiths. Other European countries where anti-cult laws are being drafted, include: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, Portugal, Spain and a few others. In most of these countries, there are efforts to categorize evangelical churches as “cults” (Griffith, 2023)

Importantly, considering the dangers of cults, what is happening in the US may be relevant. White evangelical Christians have declined by 37 percent, compared with 8 percent for White nonevangelical Protestants and 27 percent for White Catholics (Public Religion Research Institute). Though there is a general reduction in religiosity in the US there seems to be a trend of moving away from cults and towards conventional Christianity. Sri Lankans of all religions would do well to take cognizance of what is happening in the world in response to cults.

Prof.  N.A.de S. Amaratunga 

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